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Building Trust – Not just a cliché

Trust is the main ingredient in an Agile Transformation. Trust is the building block of team cohesiveness and is what allows people not only to feel but also to be empowered.  Building trust is organic and cannot be rushed, scheduled or forced.

When a team is first put together they might be a reluctance to rely on and trust each other.  Team members who do not know each other often fall back to doing what they know best.  At this stage team members are working as independent people working in their silos and connecting when they need to at the end of the sprint. Every person for oneself is the motto!!!!

One of the biggest factors blocking trust is an unwillingness to be open and vulnerable to your team.  During the forming of a team it is critical to help the team get to know each other.  This is not just what kind of work they do but helping the team to get comfortable with each other, to be open and willing to raise impediments, to work together towards a common goal.

Here are five key attitudes and behaviors for building and maintaining an environment of trust –

1.     Respect – Respect is one of the foundations of trust.  Building on the saying –“treat others as you would like to be treated” – respect others, as you would like them to respect you.
2.     Collective Accountability – There is no one person to blame or to take credit.  The team collectively fails or succeeds.  Finger pointing or hogging the recognition is a sure way of breaking trust.
3.     Assume Positive Intent – As you get to know each other assume that the other team members are always working to the benefit of the team.  This does not suggest that naïveté is needed to build trust, but I would submit that a little naïveté along with positivity would go a long way.
4.     Team First – As clichéd as “there is no I in team” sounds, there must be a spirit of selflessness towards team objectives.  Team members working together responsibly towards a shared goal will immensely help with building the trust in the team.
5.     Communication – Communication is a capstone of the building blocks towards trust.  Open, honest communications is a MUST to develop and maintain trust.

In his book The Speed of Trust, Stephen Covey wrote:

There is one thing that is common to every individual, relationship, team, family, organization, nation, economy, and civilization throughout the world — one thing which, if removed, will destroy the most powerful government, the most successful business, the most thriving economy, the most influential leadership, the greatest friendship, the strongest character, the deepest love.

On the other hand, if developed and leveraged, that one thing has the potential to create unparalleled success and prosperity in every dimension of life. Yet, it is the least understood, most neglected, and most underestimated possibility of our time.

That one thing is trust.



Definition of Impediment

As an agile coach,  I have heard often during standup – “I worked on task X yesterday, but was not able to complete it. I plan to work on task X today and hope to complete it.  I have no impediments.”  This went on for 2 days until I asked how long the task was originally estimated for and the response was – 8 hours.  So here we are 16 hours later, we have not yet completed task X and we have no impediments.  Upon further questioning I found out that the reason this task was going over the estimate was because the team member was waiting for someone on a different team to provide a particular access.  So in fact there was an impediment but this team member was hesitant to call out someone else as one.

This is a story we have all heard – right?

In a culture of competency no one wants to call out  another person for not doing their job, so they might not properly identify impediments.  One of the new standup questions in the updated scrum guide might aid this issue –  “Do I see any impediment that prevents me or the Development Team from meeting the Sprint Goal?” This is one way for team members to call out impediments for the whole team rather than just for themselves.

One thing I did to help my team to more objectively identify impediments –  is create a “Definition of Impediment”.  This was posted just like the Definition of Ready and Done in the team room on the BVIR’s.  The Definition of Impediment is created the same way as the other two definitions – together as a team.  Some of the things we listed on our definition of impediment are:

  • If a task is taking more than estimated and that is due to waiting time on any person other that the team member – it is an impediment.
  • If someone outside the team needed to do something to complete a task and the team had been waiting for over 1 day  –  it is an impediment.

Each morning during standup,  each team member was asked to look at the Definition of Impediment prior to answering the question – ” Are there any impediments ?”.  Over the course of 2 sprints the team started becoming more accountable to themselves.  They would call out dependencies outside the team that risked becoming an impediments.  They would call  out dependencies that other team members were not willing to call out.  Realizing that estimating is a skill that will improve over time, the team dug into how there were estimating and why their estimates were unrealistic.

The Definition of Impediment helped them see beyond their current agile maturity and identify areas of opportunity to “Be More Agile”!!!


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